Thursday, May 5, 2016

Robert Oppenheimer, Soviet Agent: a Physicist Goes Rogue

During WW2, development of an atomic bomb was a high priority. If the United States hadn’t achieved this capability, the Japanese would have killed millions of Americans.

So urgent was the need for this technology that military leaders, like General Leslie Groves, were willing to take security risks in order to accomplish this task. He hired a number of physicists and technological experts who had known Soviet sympathies.

By May 1942, when a physicist named Robert Oppenheimer was recruited to work on the Manhattan Project - originally named the ‘Manhattan District’ - the Soviet Union had switched sides in the middle of WW2, and was now ostensibly an ally of the United States.

Perhaps this made General Groves feel better about hiring Oppenheimer. While the war, and the alliance with the Soviets, lasted, it seemed like a reasonable risk.

But quickly after the war’s end, the USSR declared itself to be an enemy of the United States, and allowing the Soviets to gain nuclear technology would be dangerous indeed. Puzzlingly, Oppenheimer was allowed to remain in government projects related to nuclear weaponry.

More than merely having communist sympathies, Oppenheimer was a member of the communist party, dedicated to espionage. He was not the only atomic scientist working for Moscow. Klaus Fuchs and David Greenglass were among his fellow Soviet agents.

Oppenheimer was one of the more dangerous Soviet spies, because he worked his way up into administrative decision-making, and became he held his post longer before being eventually discovered and removed, as historian Stan Evans writes:

Foremost among such cases was J. Robert Oppenheimer, the famous nuclear scientist who played a leading role in the atom project of World War II. This was by all odds the most significant security problem in Cold War records, having its genesis in the days of FDR, blossoming into a full-fledged scandal under Truman, then finally coming to public view in the Eisenhower era.

Oppenheimer’s communist links were strong. The American Communist Party (CPUSA) had declared that it sought the “violent” overthrow of the United States, its people, and its government. This was no mere political party. It was a terrorist organization.

Oppenheimer was part of an espionage network throughout the United States. His task was to see that the Soviets obtained military and scientific secrets about nuclear weapons.

The earliest known mention of Oppenheimer in the FBI reports is a memo from March 28, 1941, which says he had the previous year attended a meeting in the home of Haakon Chevalier, an identified (later self-admitted) Red, along with Communist leaders Isaac Folkoff and William Schneiderman. It was apparently this information, obtained at the era of the Hitler-Stalin pact, that prompted the FBI to put Oppenheimer on its “custodial detention” list of people to be picked up by the Bureau if a national emergency developed. A memo to this effect was issued May 21, 1941, describing his “national tendency” as “Communist.”

In the early 1950s, Oppenheimer’s security clearance was revoked, effectively ending his career. After his death, documents were discovered which indicated that Oppenheimer’s sympathies had clouded his judgment, and that he had been, in some instances, more of a ‘dupe’ than a spy. He had enabled others to relay information to Moscow, sometimes unwittingly, sometimes knowing that these individuals had connections to Soviet intelligence agencies.

Despite these possibly moderating factors, Oppenheimer had joined forces with an organization which envisioned the deaths of many Americans in violent revolution. He was clearly aware that in some instances, his actions led directly to the Soviet acquisition of American nuclear technology.

The fact that the USSR eventually obtained atomic weaponry emboldened the imperialistic ambitions of the international communist conspiracy, and led to wars in Korea and Vietnam.

It is possible that if the USSR had not obtained nuclear capabilities, then the wars in Korea and Vietnam would not have taken place. Oppenheimer bears some responsibility for the deaths of American soldiers in those two wars.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

President Harry Truman Was Tough on Communism - Except When He Wasn't

President Harry Truman spoke forcefully about his intentions to stop the USSR’s global imperial ambitions. He famously proclaimed the ‘Truman Doctrine’ in a speech, as he sought Congressional approval to aid the nation of Greece against an attempted Soviet takeover:

I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.

Truman also indicated that he would resist Soviet attempts to infiltrate the United States government with ‘moles,’ and that he would root out those communist agents who had already lodged themselves inside federal bureaucracy. Historian Stan Evans writes:

In many standard histories and bios, Truman is depicted as a tough cold warrior who bravely faced down Moscow, being teamed in this respect with his foreign policy vicar Acheson at State. Even more to the present point, we’re told, Truman cleaned up security problems on the home front.

The Soviet Union was about the business of taking over nations who did not want to become the victims of communist dictatorships. Truman successfully put forth the image of someone who would fight Soviet socialist aggression, as he did, e.g., in the case of Korea.

It was logical, therefore, if the public were to assume that Truman was also dedicated to eradicating the agents of the various Soviet intelligence agencies who had worked their way into positions inside the U.S. government.

The cleanup was supposedly effected through the Truman loyalty program, announced in March of 1947. Thanks to this draconian effort, it’s said, whatever Communists or security risks had got on official payrolls were ousted.

Puzzlingly, Truman’s actions on the domestic front did not always match his words. His efforts against the well-developed Soviet espionage network in North America were lackluster and halfhearted.

Some of the most notorious communist spies held position inside Truman’s administration. Robert Oppenheimer, Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White, and William Remington were a few of the many Soviet operatives who had access to sensitive information which they sent to Moscow, and also had access to the ears of policymakers, who could be influenced to unwittingly make pro-Soviet decisions.

This well developed intelligence network connect these individuals, and others, back to the USSR and eventually back to Stalin.

Truman, however, did not act on information given to him by the FBI which indicated that these men were major security risks, as Stan Evans writes:

Sad to say, this portrayal of Truman’s policy on the home front is almost entirely fiction. That he was a visceral anti-Communist is not in doubt. However, he seemed to know little about the way the Soviets and their U.S. agents functioned, or their presence in the government he headed, and didn’t show much interest in learning. This ennui persisted despite the myriad FBI reports supplied to the White House and Truman cabinet about the vast extent and serious nature of the penetration. Accordingly, not only was the security problem not cleaned up by 1950, some of the most flagrant suspects imaginable were flourishing in the federal workforce.

Why did Truman, who seemed dedicated to freeing the world of the communist threat, turn an inattentive eye to Soviet spies inside his own offices? Why did he not act when others attempted to alert him to this danger?

There are several possible answers.

Perhaps Truman was concerned about the image of a U.S. president having to publicly admit the presence of communist operatives inside the federal government. The political damage to his administration and to his party would be grave.

Or perhaps Truman, like many presidents, had to answer to higher powers - the leaders of his party, and the shadowy figures who operate internationalist conferences - who told him not to root out the dangers.

It’s possible that we’ll never know the cause of Truman’s mystifying inaction on this topic.